Harmon’s Histories: Fred Plummer left a lasting mark on Libby homes, businesses
Fred Mayo (F.M.) Plummer was one of the wealthiest merchants in the early days of Libby, Montana.
In 1911, the Libby Herald newspaper listed him as the 15th highest taxpayer in all of Lincoln County, on a list that included the Great Northern Railway, the Anaconda Company, a number of banks and a handful of individuals.
He and his wife Sivolin (Neff) Plummer lived next door to my grandparent’s home on California Avenue.
Fred Plummer died in 1920 at age 60, so I never knew him. His widow, however, lived on for a number of decades and managed the family’s business ventures.
Sivolin Plummer was a generous woman who let my grandparents raise vegetables in a vacant lot she owned between their two houses. She also offered my dad his first job at one of her family businesses, the Kootenai Mercantile Company.
Fred Plummer began his working life with the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad in the 1890s. Within a few years, he found himself in Libby where he partnered with a man named Neff to create the Neff & Plummer mercantile business.
Soon Plummer, with new partners, renamed it the F.M. Plummer Mercantile, which advertised “everything in merchandise” and was the “sole agent for Chase & Sandborn’s high-grade teas and coffees.”
When they said “everything,” they meant dry goods, men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, hardware and groceries.
Need a Henderson corset? They were priced from $1.25 to $6.00. Or how about something from the famous line of Palmer garments for women?
Men’s hats? “The Gordon” was the hat to buy, and Plummer’s was the place: “Remember to get it. Plummer’s is the place. Now is the time.”
In 1907, Plummer participated in the Spokane Industrial Fair, winning a “beautiful silver cup” for the best Individual Display.
The Plummer Mercantile was later renamed the Kootenai Mercantile Company, “Libby’s Big Department Store,” with “four departments in one large modern brick building.”
With the mercantile operating profitably, Plummer, with partners Ed Lukens and others, opened the First National Bank of Libby in 1912.
During World War I, Plummer chaired the Libby Red Cross which raised over $2,000 and recruited nearly 450 members.
He built Plummer Hall for community gatherings. The Libby Commercial Club met there, encouraging everyone to attend and “give your ideas for building a greater Libby.” After all, “it takes the united effort of all to accomplish practical results.”
The Plummer name lives on today in Libby, although few may actually know much about the man.
The Plummer Preschool Center incorporates the Kootenai Valley Head Start and Libby Public Preschool.
Then there’s Plummer Elementary ... and, Plummer Road.
Let’s end with my favorite Plummer story, which takes us back to 1916.
Some Libby practical joker sent a note to the military recruiting office in Spokane, suggesting there were a number of local men who were available and “could be induced to enlist merely for the asking.”
The list included Plummer, John Geigher and “other well-known residents long past the age of military service.”
Two recruiters soon appeared in Libby, only to discover the joke.
The Libby Times newspaper concluded, “It is probable that in a short time the humorous writer of this nervy epistle will soon be doing ‘service’ for Uncle Sam, but not wearing the regular uniform.”
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.